We poured all our dreams into boats and we sailed. We sailed across black waters, aching for molecules of happiness. We reached for the rock, landed on the shore; mesmerised by the modulations of what we later recognized was peace. In the uncharted space between fleeing civil war and the smack-smack-smack of refugeedom, detention centres and deportation, there was the exhilarating promise that maybe - just maybe - we could finally catch our breath, rest in the knowledge that we were safe.
In these new lands, we split our lives into hyphenated versions of who we really were: Somali-Kenyan, Somali-British, Somali-Kenyan-British. When strangers asked us where we came from we did not mention Danish detention centres; we did not mention what the sorghum in a Kenyan refugee camp tastes like; we did not mention that our children and our children’s children were trilingual; we did not mention the essential humanity, pride and resilience of our community; we did not mention that the 21st century term for our rich, nomadic culture was simply ‘immigrant’. By committing ourselves to silence in exchange for clean slates we did not realize that we were morphing into ciphers.
My identity, like that of my fellow countrymen and women, was split in half. I lived in London with my wife and two sons. By day, I was a doting father, husband and dutiful bank clerk. At night, when my family was asleep, I plucked my eyebrows, painted my face with makeup, slipped into the slinkiest dress and strutted down to Soho nightclubs to sing.
I sang Piaf, Dolly Parton, Lady Day. I sang to men who wanted to press me against the wall, feel my fake tits, fuck me until we shifted the patterns of the weather. But I didn’t flex. Instead, I sang until I was strung out, high on hit after hit of endorphin-inducing melodies. My twin selves only ever met on stage as the sweetest paradox: masculine voice, feminine vibe.
When I sang, I time-travelled to my past in order to seal wounds. I came face-to-face with my younger self, a thirteen-year-old boy wearing his mother’s hijab and henna, lips rubbed with rossetto. I sang songs of experience to reassure this young man that one day his selfhood would align with what he saw in the mirror. He didn’t believe me.
As I stretched the syllables of ‘God Bless The Child’ I was on stage in body but my soul was in Somalia with my thirteen-year-old self.
I told him that one-day he would move to England.
I told him that he would meet a stunning woman called Farhia who would love him fiercely.
I told him that Farhia would bear him two beautiful sons, Taysir and Malik.
I told him that Farhia would someday find his makeup and pantyhose and she would accuse him of cheating. She would leave him for a month and take the boys with her. When she returned he would reveal his secret to her and in the most surprising, heartening gesture, she would embrace him and tell him she still loved him. It would take time for her to adjust to this newness but when she did they would go on to have the most punch-drunk, passionate sex whilst he was wearing his twelve-inch heels.
I told my thirteen-year-old self to keep dreaming because we must.
After my set I segued out of my cerebration. I grinned, gathered up a bouquet of roses from an admirer, took my bow. I went home and I arranged the fiori in a vase. I wiped my face free of makeup, slipped out of my sequined dress, eased off my golden heels, washed my glittering hair.
I went to sleep fizz-fizz-fizzing for the future.